Eat to beat PMS

We all know the PMS caricature: a puffy-eyed woman weeping her eyes out one minute, tearing her hair out the next, and then gobbling guiltily on chips and chocolate the next. Though not many pre-menstrual women fit the stereotype, there is some truth to it. Mood changes and cravings, along with bloating and cramps, are some of the most frequently experienced PMS symptoms.

Obviously, a woman going through hormonal shifts would want to cut back on caffeine and sugar to avoid jangled nerves and anxiety. So, coffee, pop, and chocolate are out. And cross salty snacks off the list – excess sodium leads to water retention and bloating. So what now?

There is no food that will cure PMS, but skipping meals or pigging out on junk food will likely make it worse. A healthy, balanced approach to nutrition is as important as ever. Other than the foods you should avoid, there are loads of delicious foods that could actually help to reduce the incidence of PMS symptoms.

Foods to steady the swings. PMS cravings happen for a reason. And it's not weak willpower. One of the theories of PMS causes is that in the days leading up to a woman's monthly menstrual cycle, hormones may cause a dip in levels of serotonin, a brain chemical responsible for mood and feelings of well-being. Women crave particular foods because their bodies seek to correct this imbalance.

Carbohydrates found in commonly-craved foods, like whole grain breads and pasta, trigger serotonin production and set you back on a more even keel. But choose the wrong carbs – like the ones in chocolate and chips – and you strap yourself onto a blood sugar roller coaster. That's not the kind of ride you want to go on while your hormones are already going up and down!

Swing-steadying snacks: Choose complex carbohydrates (carbohydrates that take longer for your body to break down and absorb) like fibre-filled foods, which will help to curb your cravings and may help steady your mood. You'll find complex carbs in whole grain varieties of breads, cereals, and pastas. The produce section is a complex carb bonanza, since legumes and starchy vegetables burst with the good stuff.

Foods to beat the bloat. Do you feel it in your fingers or feel it in your toes? And do your ankles grow? No, it's not love that is all around. It's just PMS water retention. The reasons for PMS bloating are still uncertain, but it is thought to be triggered by changes in hormone levels.

As with other types of bloating, eating salty foods can only make it worse. And as with other types of bloating, drinking plenty of water can help to maintain healthy fluid balance. It may help to eat foods containing potassium, a mineral that can help to balance sodium levels in your body and encourage flushing out of excess fluid. Other mineral deficiencies, such as magnesium, could be related to PMS symptoms.

Bloat-beating bites: You don't have to gorge yourself on bananas (which have high potassium content), though you may want to toss one in with some other fruits for a PMS-proof smoothie: Papaya, cantaloupe, apricots, strawberries, and kiwi fruit are all rich in potassium! Seek magnesium in pumpkin, sunflower, or sesame seeds, as well as in black beans, leafy greens, and fish like salmon and halibut.

Foods to curb cramps. Premenstrual cramps can feel like a tug, a grip, a pull. They can make a woman's nether regions feel heavy and congested and just plain uncomfortable. And they can also cause contractions in your digestive system that lead to all sorts of stomach troubles, like nausea, diarrhea, or constipation.

All of this tugging and discomfort comes from the contraction of the muscles in the uterus as they work to push out the blood-rich uterine lining. The chemicals called prostaglandins believed to cause the muscle contraction may be balanced out by eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. And since blood levels of calcium seem to fall right before some women get their period, a boost in your intake of the mineral may be helpful. Pair your calcium with vitamin D to maximize the benefits.

Cramp-curbing cuisine: Aim for 400 to 1,200 mg of calcium per day to help with PMS cramps. If lactose is no problem for you, go to the usual calcium sources – cheese, yogurt, or milk. And if cramps had a favourite colour, it would definitely not be green. Leafy greens like spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, and mustard greens are all loaded with cramp-curbing calcium.

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